France’s last surviving WWII Resistance hero dies at 101

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A page of history has passed when the last surviving member of France’s most distinguished group of World War II Resistance heroes, known as the Order of Liberation, has died at the age of 101.

Hubert Germain, who served in the Free French Forces, was the last surviving member of the Order of Liberation, known as the Companions. The Order was created by General Charles de Gaulle in November 1940 to honor those who made significant contributions to the liberation of France.

Germain will be buried on the outskirts of Paris, on Mont Valérien, where the Germans executed many resistance fighters and hostages during World War II. Today it houses the Memorial to the Struggle against France, inaugurated by De Gaulle in 1960.

Germain’s death marks the end of an era. “When the last of us are dead, a flame will go out. But the embers will always remain ”, wrote Germain in his memoirs, entitled“ Espérer pour la France ”(Wait for France).

French President Emmanuel Macron “prostrates himself before the life of this figure of free France,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement in tribute to Germain.

Macron will preside over a ceremony for Germain on November 11, Armistice Day, which marks the end of World War I and celebrates the memory of the victims of the conflict, at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, then at his burial on Mount Valérien, your office. said.

A separate ceremony will also be held at the Invalides memorial complex in Paris in the coming days, he added.

‘We will win the war’

Germain was born in Paris on August 6, 1920, the son of a general officer who had served in the colonial forces of France. After graduating from high school, he was preparing for the naval academy entrance exam at the Lycée Michel Montaigne in Bordeaux when war was declared in September 1939. Months later, after May 1940 and the fall of France , decided to continue the fight. .

Germain boarded a ship carrying Polish soldiers to England and arrived in London on June 24, 1940. There he met de Gaulle. “After inquiring about my studies, he explained where he would send me to continue my training and said, ‘I’m going to need you.’ Well, at 19 years old, when the man who took the affairs of the nation into his hands tells you that, your chest swells. I understood immediately that, together with Churchill, de Gaulle and I, we were going to win the war! “he wrote in his autobiography.

Having joined the Free French Forces since its inception, Germain was assigned to the battleship Courbet where he studied to become a naval officer. In the spring of 1941 he was assigned to the staff of General Paul Legentilhomme, commander of the 1st Free French Division in Palestine, and was scheduled to intervene in the Levant. He fought in Syria and Libya, where he saw combat at the Battle of Bir Hakeim, and in Egypt. The battles affected the young soldier. “At first, you leave with determination and courage. Then you have had enough of seeing houses burned, demolished, disfigured forests where projectiles exploded, corpses under the open sky, “he wrote.

“It also numbs you.”

Hubert Germain, on his arrival in London on June 24, 1940. © Ordre de la Libération

In Italy, in May 1944, Germain, a lieutenant commanding an anti-tank section near Pontecorvo, sustained a side injury while supporting the attacking battalion along the Liri River with heavy artillery fire. Evacuated to Naples, Germain was awarded the Cross of Liberation by de Gaulle at the end of June 1944. He later recounted his astonishment at receiving the honor. “I never thought about that. I had struggled a lot, but I was never working with that in mind. I was not interested,” he said modestly. Chunks of shrapnel were embedded in his body.

‘You have returned to France’

A few weeks later, Germain participated in the Allied landing in Provence in August 1944. Four years after his departure for England, he finally set foot once more in his country. “You land, you disembark, you walk a few steps and you collapse. It is that land that inhales you, the beach. At that moment, you fall to your knees and cry. Not for long, because there is no time to lose, but it is impressive, ”he recalled during an interview with LCI television. “And that’s when I said to myself: ‘There, you’ve returned to France! France does not belong to you, it is not your France, but that night it would be mine ”.

Germain then took part in the Vosges and Alsace campaigns before ending the war in the southern Alps, in the Authion range. After the war he was an executive in a chemical company before becoming involved in politics. He was first elected mayor of Saint-Chéron southwest of Paris in 1953. He was then elected a deputy in the National Assembly of the lower house in Paris. He would serve as a government minister, first for the postal service and telecommunications and then for relations with Parliament, in the early 1970s.

In his later years, Germain continued to tirelessly bear witness to the memories of his fellow soldiers and even his former enemies.

“There comes a day when what you have left is the respect that we must have for all those who sacrificed themselves and whom we no longer speak of. Everyone I killed, even without knowing it, I also keep in my prayers. Those whom I could not rescue as well. My duty today is to think about them, although some of them may be forgotten by their families ”.

As the last survivor of the 1,038 Companions of Liberation, Germain was eligible to be buried in the crypt of the Monument to the Fighting France on Mont Valérien.

Germain will rest on the monument’s Plot No. 9, built to pay tribute to French WWII fighters, members of the Resistance, and deportees. He will join 16 other people buried there who died for France between 1939 and 1945 and who represent all forms of commitment to the cause and the various battlefields. Eleven are soldiers (including two North African tirailleurs, two black African tirailleurs, and three members of the Free French Forces) and five are members of the Resistance (including one fighter from the French Interior Forces Resistance and one from the Indochina Resistance) .

Eighty years after the creation of the Order of Liberation by General de Gaulle, its last representative no longer exists. But the memory of your engagement will endure.

As Germain said: “We were these burning embers, and the Order of Liberation took on the mission of keeping the embers burning to bear witness to that time.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.